“Me and white boy Mac came to take them back” —Vince Staples, “Outro”
Larry Fisherman was an old man with a beard who spouted nonsensical truisms from his porch. He was an auteur of the abstract and a wiz behind the boards. He could make sound speak in tongues and he knew languages foreign to all of us. He was Mac Miller’s producer alter-ego, and one of the main springboards for Vince Staples’ commercial career.
In 2013, the pair—that is Larry and Vince—came together for Staples’ now-seminal Stolen Youth LP. Sandwiched between the Shyne Coldchain series, Stolen Youth is where Vince Staples found his voice.
The artistic wunderkinds summoned the best of each other and Stolen Youth is further proof Mac’s LA residency was not only a boon to himself but to all artists. Before there was the experimentation of Big Fish Theory, there was the galaxy-like, sprawling production of Stolen Youth, dubbed by HipHopDX as a “free album,” the highest accolade possible for a mixtape.
We could celebrate the tape for many reasons, from the chilling raps Staples spits to the ethereal production Mac crafts around Vince’s cadence and inflections. On Stolen Youth, the duo moves in step with each other. It sounds as if they produced the project in real-time, with Mac’s spacey and stormy production rising from the ether at the same time Vince’s pen scribbled across the proverbial legal pad.
Take the rain of bullets cutting through the veil of chords on “Intro,” and how they fillet the pockets of Staples’ delivery. There is never a wasted second on “Intro”; at every moment a note exists to stun or enthrall you—such is the ethos of the tape. This is a showing out for both artists, one a rapper on the rise and the other a producer’s producer finally coming into his own.
On “Fantoms,” ghosts wade through wind chimes and skeleton keys. Mac proves himself master of setting a scene. Everything feels jagged and dangerous, and Vince floats over the production without a second thought. While the eerie soundscapes make our skin crawl, Vince gnashes the beat with his eviscerating raps and even temper. On the warmer “Stuck In My Ways,” Mac dips into his jazz tendencies without throwing off the pace of the tape, while Vince takes lyrical strides over the pattering percussion. They make every creative stretch in sync, their reverence for each other always clear.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the tape is their attention and devotion to minutia. The same light veil on “Intro” returns on “Killing Y’all,” taking on a darker tone and showcasing Mac’s inordinate ability to craft and carry out motifs. The lite-choral phrasing on both tracks acts as a throughline for the tape. It’s a nod to the sheer craftsmanship that both artists brought to the project. Mixtape or not, Stolen Youth was well-woven and thoughtful. A “free album” without question, and—I cannot stress this enough—a monumental step forward for both artists.
Vince Staples comes to life on Stolen Youth, spitting grim bars and spinning his own controlled chaos. Vince’s street tales are close to the chest and aching. Survival (“Killing Y’all,” “Thought About You”) is of tantamount importance to him as he rattles off the harrowing truth of his surroundings. Abuse and violence take precedence in the content, but so too does images of godliness and making it to heaven. Vince cases his own soul and fortifies himself on “Thought About You,” the obvious predecessor to his 2015 opus, Summertime ‘06. His downtrodden delivery is only a step away from the broken singing of 2015’s “Summertime.”
Mac pulls all of this out of Vince. Together, the artists pave their collective futures. The production on “Thought About You” is rightfully pensive and ever-so cacophonous. As color imbues Vince’s voice, so, too, does the production, bolstered with strings and a brief guitar riff. Whether it’s over a crunchy drumroll or a deep and staggering melody, Vince never loses his place on the track. Mac makes incredible beats, but they are not always the easiest to rap over. His arrangements are unconventional and subversive, and yet, Vince spoke Mac’s language. He was kicking back on the porch with Larry, so to say.
Mac Miller also featured twice on Stolen Youth as his rapper-self, gracing us with verses on “Heaven” and “Sleep.” Recorded during his sessions for Watching Movies with the Sound Off, these verses are strong, with thematic allusions to Faces, especially on “Sleep.” Mac sounds as fearless and incisive as Vince. Gone is his slur, a shocking vocal tone in its place. Damn near a bark comes out of his mouth as he spits about killing himself. The imagery is harsh and similar to Delusional Thomas; anything to keep up with Vince Staples. Whether they knew it, these two artists were molding each other. Stolen Youth is haunting in its symbiotic beauty.
We love to say nothing in Vince’s catalog sounds like Big Fish Theory, and while that’s true, there is nothing in either Mac Miller nor Vince Staples’ catalogs that sounds like Stolen Youth. The project is a collaborative feat that showcased Mac Miller’s versatility and Vince Staples’ proficiency as a rapper, setting up to be the voice of a generation.
“Stolen Youth isn’t me,” Vince Staples told NPR in 2015, and while that may be true, what is truer is that both the project and Mac Miller were essential to forming Vince Staples value statement as an artist. And vice versa.